I imagine this will be perceived as the right wing collecting a scalp, but considering that liberal groups increasingly saw Susan Rice as no picnic either, this probably falls under the auspices of an acceptable loss. This is the statement from the President:
Today, I spoke to Ambassador Susan Rice, and accepted her decision to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State [...]
(snipping out Rice’s curriculum vitae)
I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues. I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend. While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country.
I don’t know if this reignites the Benghazi debate or not; I can certainly see conservatives predisposed to calling it worse than Watergate energized by the notion that Rice had something to hide. But the reality is that Rice made more enemies than friends in her attempt to mend fences on Capitol Hill. And her family investments in the oil and gas industry, her long record of war advocacy and too-close-for-comfort relationship to global dictators left her without champions in her own party to beat back the various attacks. In the end, the President must not have seen this as a hill to die on.
The real damage here is the perception that if the conservative noise machine makes enough noise, eventually they will succeed at their goals. There’s also the residual effect of this. It makes it far more likely that John Kerry will succeed Hillary Clinton at State. In that case, a Massachusetts Senate seat comes open again, and under current law, that would trigger a special election, with Scott Brown lying in wait on the Republican side and a fairly thin bench for the Democrats. The President has never made much of the political considerations when choosing cabinet members and I don’t expect him to care much in this case, either.
In addition, it’s not like this gets Rice out of a policymaking position in the White House. She’s at the cabinet level as UN Ambassador, and she may transition to national security advisor, which could end up being a bigger role than even State. So it’s not like Rice was vanquished. But that will be the perception, and it may result in turning the Benghazi conspiracy talk up to 11. That has to be factored into the calculations here.